There are hundreds of hard-working brewing professionals giving their all to help maintain the storied reputation San Diego’s brewing scene has earned over the past several decades. Some have risen to great fame among industry pros and craft-beer enthusiasts. Some ply their trade in obscurity (and are more than happy to do so). Some are Instagram famous, trendsetters with cult followings that would rival social-media influencers. And while they share plenty of similarities, each is their own unique person with their own likes, dislikes, methods, techniques, inspirations, interests and philosophies. The goal of San Diego Beer News‘ Portrait of a Brewer series is to not only introduce you to local brewers, but to have some fun delving into the aforementioned areas so you can get to know them a little better and appreciate them and their contributions to the county’s standout brewing culture. All that plus stellar portraits from brewery lifestyle photographer extraordinaire Matt Furman.
Today’s featured brewer is…
of Belching Beaver Brewery
What is your current title?
Where did you grow up?
What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?
It was a Tecate. I was in Mexico with some friends (and younger than I’d like to admit). My dad went fishing and us friends decided to drink some of his beers.
What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer?
When I was in college in 2004 I had a Great White from Lost Coast Brewery. That was the first craft-beer I really enjoyed. The other craft offerings were more for the buzz.
What led you to consider a career in brewing?
My family owns Coronado Brewing, and I truly liked it. It wasn’t my plan going into college. I was an engineering major, then I saw the crash in the economy and realized that the ups and downs didn’t quite hit the alcohol business as hard as construction and real-estate.
Where did you get your first brewing job?
I got my first jobs working for Bison Brewing and Butte Creek Brewing in Chico, California.
What breweries have you worked for over your career and in what roles?
At Bison I was a Brewer’s Assistant. At Butte Creek I did packaging. At Five Points Brewing, I was a brewer also responsible for cellar and packaging roles. For Coronado Brewing, I was a brewer. At Belching Beaver, I’m the brewmaster, plus I handle about everything you could imagine…and then some.
Who have been the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?
Van Smith taught me how to be a methodical hard worker with the skills to understand how things work, and know how to fix them. Coronado Brewing co-founder Rick Chapman introduced me to the beer world. Without him I’d likely be in the construction industry.
What singular piece of advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer?
Don’t expect anything but hard work and dedication. You are in this for a labor of love, and of course to pay your bills. If you don’t know how to be self-sufficient, eager to learn and quick to adapt, this ain’t the place for you. You can make a career out of it, but it’s difficult to rise to the top as it takes a lot of time to understand the intricacies of a brewery.
What ultimate career goal would you like to achieve?
I’ve thought about certificates and graduate programs, but I’m not sure as I’m almost 40. Ultimately, I’d like to start something that people are proud to support and love. In some regard I think I have done that, but this industry is very much evolving. If I could be an early pioneer in something special that would be awesome. I’d also like to start my own restaurant with a very California vibe and multiple locations. I believe people would love it.
What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?
I’ve made a lot of beer, so that’s tough. Maybe my most recent project, terpene-based IPAs. When it’s all said and done, though, likely the original Belching Beaver Milk Stout, which is the base beer for our Peanut Butter Milk Stout.
What is your least-favorite beer you’ve ever brewed on any level?
Black IPA. I’m not a fan of that style at all and hated trying to make a good one, because I still have yet to have one I truly like.
What are your favorite and least-favorite hop varietals at present?
Favorite: Nelson, Galaxy, Cita, Mosaic; Least Favorite: Columbus or CTZ
If you weren’t a brewer, what do you think you would do for a living?
Working in either construction or the restaurant industry
In your opinion, what non-brewing position is of great importance at a craft-beer company but often gets overlooked or less credit than those making the beer?
What is your favorite beer style?
If you could wipe one style of beer off the face of the Earth, what would it be?
Cascadian Dark Ale, AKA: Black IPA
What single brewing company’s beers and/or ethos/style has been most influential on your style?
What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company?
The original Alpine Beer Co.
What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?
Cantillon, Tree House Brewing, Trillium Brewing
What are your favorite local beer events?
My favorite event is Mammoth Bluesapalooza, and I really like beer-and-food-pairing events, in general.
If you were to leave San Diego, where would be the next-best place you’d want to brew?
Which musical genre or artists are on your brew-day soundtrack/playlist?
Classic Rock, though the array of music played here would likely surprise anyone. Goth, rock, country and so much more. Disney soundtracks…it still blows my mind.
What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse?
Feel and vision
When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?
Off-roading, snowboarding, fishing, camping, Mexico adventures and hanging with my growing family.
Where do you like to drink off-the-clock?
What is your favorite beer-and-food pairing of all time?
Stout and chicken with mole sauce
If you could somehow plan your last beer dinner before dying, what would you drink and eat, and who would you invite to join you?
All my friends and family. We would drink a Nelson IPA bomber from Alpine 12 years ago paired with Willie Mae’s fried chicken from New Orleans, followed by a great bottle of Cabernet (I know it’s not beer) or a sweet stout. I’d pair that with a dry-aged steak and a side of au gratin taters, and finish off with a Cantillon paired with a hot apple strudel and French vanilla ice cream.
Who do you think you are (a purposely broad question)?
Honestly I think I’m an average guy who isn’t afraid to get my hands dirty. I’ve always had a knack for working with and fixing things, and it’s helped Belching Beaver out a ton. I love working hard and playing harder. I’m a family man with a growing family, and can’t wait to see what the future holds.
If you’re a brewer at a San Diego brewing company and would like to be featured in our Portrait of a Brewer series, drop us a line at [email protected].